District courts need long-term help with cases
Technically there is no longer an “emergency” in the U.S. District Court system in Arizona, but in reality there is.
A year-long emergency declaration — which was intended to help the court system deal with a huge caseload — expired last month. It had allowed the district courts to extend the required 70-day limit for cases to come to trial to 180 days if needed.
Fortunately, it was not necessary to invoke that provision thanks to the efforts of visiting judges from district courts in other states, but the caseload has not diminished and the potential for the Arizona system to be overwhelmed continues to exist.
Chief Judge Rosalyn Silver said the district courts here — which had the highest number of felony cases in the nation last year — are still struggling. “We are still in dire circumstances. We are underwater.”
The state is authorized to have 13 district court judgeships, although really it needs far more than that, according to court officials. The total number of cases handled by each current judge is approaching 1,000 a year.
But the court system remains short of even the 13 authorized positions. One judgeship has been hung up in Congress. The U.S. Senate has yet to approve a nomination made by President Obama.
When a court system is as overwhelmed by cases as are the federal district courts in Arizona, it can lead to a lower quality of justice. There is less opportunity for trial preparation, less opportunity for careful judicial consideration and more possibility that justice will not be done as the courts struggle to push cases through the system in a timely manner.
A long-term solution is needed rather than visiting judges and temporary emergency declarations.